Monday, March 30, 2009

Bright Lights, Big Ass: A Self-Indulgent, Surly, Ex-Sorority Girl's Guide to Why it Often Sucks in the City . . . by Jen Lancaster

I've read previous books by Jen Lancaster and I also follow her blog. She reminds me of one of my best friends from my neighborhood in suburban Chicago and also a little bit of my sister-in-law. Hmm—I just realized that along with having some similar personality traits, I'm pretty sure all three are Republicans. She also reminds me of (my BFF) Laurie Notaro, what with the wackiness and the shenanigans.

I'd read criticisms that in Bright Lights, Big Ass, Lancaster brings up her political beliefs more than in her previous books and on her blog. I wasn't sure how I'd react to this but I needn't have worried. She's as funny as ever. Yes, she is a Republican—much more conservative than I am. But I knew that going in. She's not trying to persuade anyone and she doesn't bash Democrats (for being Democrats, that is). It is, however, a part of who she is and so a memoir is bound to mention it.

By the way, I read this as an ebook (which is how I also read Such a Pretty Fat). I read Bitter is the New Black in paperback.

About Bright Lights, Big Ass:
Jen Lancaster hates to burst your happy little bubble, but life in the big city isn't all it's cracked up to be. Contrary to what you see on TV and in the movies, most urbanites aren't party-hopping in slinky dresses and strappy stilettos. But lucky for us, Lancaster knows how to make the life of the lower crust mercilessly funny and infinitely entertaining.

Whether she's reporting rude neighbors to Homeland Security, harboring a crush on her grocery store clerk, or fighting-and losing-the Battle of the Stairmaster- Lancaster explores how silly, strange, and not-so-fabulous real city living can be. And if anyone doesn't like it, they can kiss her big, fat, pink, puffy down parka.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

The Willa Cather Archive

The Willa Cather Archive is another Nebraska Press/UNL Libraries collaboration (in partnership with the Cather Project). My favorite parts of this site are Cather's journalism and the image gallery.
The project originated in 1997, and over the years has digitized and published hundreds of thousands of words of Cather-authored texts and Cather scholarship. It now includes, in a fully-searchable format, digital transcriptions of eight Cather books (copyright law forbids digitally republishing her post-1922 works); all of her short fiction pre-1912, many of which are presented in their original periodical publications; her interviews, speeches, and public letters; her uncollected periodical nonfiction from the 1910s; the first five volumes of Cather Studies; the back issues of Teaching Cather; a large, searchable gallery of photographs; multiple biographies; announcements and news from the Cather scholarly community, virtual tours of Cather-related locales, and much more. Recent additions include A Calendar of the Letters of Willa Cather: An Expanded, Digital Edition; text analysis of Cather's complete fiction, powered by TokenX; and "Mapping a Writer's World: A Geographic Chronology of the Life of Willa Cather."

Thursday, March 19, 2009

David Sedaris is coming!

A little bird has told me that David Sedaris will be appearing at the University Bookstore on June 20th. For free! Holy cow!

I hope to be helping out at the event (please please please, Steph!), but you can be sure I'll be there regardless.

I'll post more details as they become available. Until then, you can prepare by reading some of his recommended books.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Nebraska U: A Collaborative History

This is another cool electronic project from UNL Libraries:
From the Archives of the UNL Libraries, Nebraska U is a collaborative effort to explore, through student research projects and multimedia, the history of Nebraska's most important University.
It includes An Architectural Tour of Historic UNL, a project from architecture librarian Kay Logan-Peters.
This website illustrates with text and images the dramatic physical development of Nebraska's largest academic institution, the University of Nebraska, and the people who committed their lives to it. This website is devoted in particular to the growth of the Lincoln campuses, now known as City and East.

Much of the information contained in this site is available elsewhere, but it requires a determined researcher to track down the parts that make up the whole. Architectural records are contained at the University's Facilities Management department, other records are held within various files in the University Archives, embedded within the Board of Regents minutes, and scattered throughout various publications touching on the history of Lincoln and the University. Nearly all of this data is in print, that is, on paper. The intention of this work is to bring this vast amount of information together into an electronic publication, interpret and present it in a way that makes it meaningful, and deliver it to the researcher or casual reader in an easily accessible form. The remarkable history of the University of Nebraska deserves nothing less.

Review: I Like You: Hospitality under the Inflence, by Amy Sedaris

"For most people the word 'party' conjures up an image that is so intimidating, so terrifying that they just want to skip the whole thing—it's just too much pressure. A party doesn't necessarily have to be a big extravagant to-do. A party can be as simple as a few poeple getting together for conversation and snacks. As my guests leave even my most simplest parties, I consistently hear the same thing: 'That was the best time I ever had,' and it's always me saying it" (17).

How can you not like someone capable of writing that? Amy Sedaris's I Like You: Hospitality under the Influence is in part a serious cookbook and in part a send-up of the notion of the etiquette book or cookbook. It's also got some awesomely weird photo essays. The photographs of Sedaris are hysterical, especially, to my mind, the ones in which she is putting on pantyhose, and it's hard to explain exactly why other than that they immediately invoke such pain and understanding in me. Anyway, she poses as a debauched, glamorous lady of the 1970s; a lush; a freshly scrubbed clueless Southern mother; and a pantyhose aficionado or fetishist—I can't figure it out. There's more, too, but I'm not sure I can make it cohere, because, in part, it just doesn't. Anyway, for the most part, the Sedaris photos, some of them taken, I see, by Todd Oldham, are just funny in and of themselves. Weirdly, the food photographs are not as effective for me; they fail often to make the food look as good as I know it is, because I've made a few of the recipes from this book, and they're all really good (about which more later).

The other focus of the book is to talk about hospitality and having parties. These pieces are often sharp and funny, though sometimes vulgar (on purpose, and in that tough "you-can-take-it way" that I always fail at), but they are usually always interesting and amusing. The book opens with a hysterical multipart letter about hospitality (juxtaposed with photos of Amy Sedaris looking suave and then passing out), then moves along to discussing various theme parties or dinners one might have, complete with meal plans and recipes. Some of this—the gypsy stuff, for example—I found not funny at all; the old people dinner made me laugh, however.

The best part of the book, in my opinion, is the recipes themselves. I love Southern food and I love Greek food and I don't know how to cook either style that well—this book focuses on these two things. Thanks to this book, I've finally made Pastitsio, and I plan to take on Spanakopita soon. Also, there's a heavenly killer chocolate cake with whipped-cream frosting recipe in there, which I also tried and made with no problem at all (there's not a temperature for the chocolate cake recipe, but you can figure it out by looking at a recipe for another cake, and it's always going to be somewhere around 375 anyway, right?). So anyway: the recipes are easy to follow, and there are many of them. You will get a good introduction to some classic Southern cooking dishes and some Greek dishes, and probably laugh, too, while reading the book. There's no bad there.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

The Journals of Lewis & Clark Online

I was fortunate enough to have been part of the project team that created The Journals of the Lewis and Clark Expedition online. On this site you can browse the full text of the Nebraska edition of Lewis and Clark's journals.
Also included are a gallery of images, important supplemental texts, and audio files of selected passages plus Native American perspectives. With a focus on full-text searchability and ease of navigation, the Journals of the Lewis and Clark Expedition Online is intended to be both a useful tool for scholars and an engaging website for the general public.
Over the course of the implementation phase we uploaded about 200 pages a month. In a nutshell, this was our workflow:
  • obtain electronic file for the current volume (either from UNP's archive, from one of our vendors' archives, or by having it rekeyed)
  • send file to UNL Libraries Electronic Text Center for XML coding
  • a printout of the XML file with stylesheet applied comes back to UNP where it is proofread side-by-side with the print edition—not an easy task considering all of the journalists' creative spelling was retained
  • the marked-up hard copy goes back to E-Text where changes are incorporated into the XML file and any other necessary changes are made by UNP to the live site: menu revised, links added, etc.
  • the new pages go live

Monday, March 9, 2009

Catching Up: A Random List

I'm way behind here, so I'm just going to post a quick list to get caught up:
  • I read both Slip of the Knife by Denise Mina and Hardly Knew Her by Laura Lippman (go to the bottom of this entry to browse inside Hardly Knew Her). No surprise, I very much liked them both.
  • Lots of Kindle news: The Kindle 2 came out and here a friend describes his experience with it; there is now a Kindle app for the iPhone; and, of course, that whole text to speech brouhaha.
  • Barnes & Noble bought Fictionwise, and so also eReader. Will this mean more ebooks available for Jana? Let's hope so.
  • Some friends recommended the book Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell. I still need to get it, but I'm hoping once I do that it gets me out of my mystery rut. Here is a brief description:
A reluctant voyager crossing the Pacific in 1850; a disinherited composer blagging a precarious livelihood in between-the-wars Belgium; a high-minded journalist in Governor Reagan's California; a vanity publisher fleeing his gangland creditors; a genetically modified "dinery server" on death-row; and Zachry, a young Pacific Islander witnessing the nightfall of science and civilization — the narrators of Cloud Atlas hear each other's echoes down the corridor of history, and their destinies are changed in ways great and small.

In his captivating third novel, David Mitchell erases the boundaries of language, genre and time to offer a meditation on humanity's dangerous will to power, and where it may lead us.

Saturday, March 7, 2009

The New York Times Article Skimmer

This is the first example of an online newspaper that I'm excited about. I think they did a really good job recreating the experience of browsing through a paper. Here is a brief video showing article skimmer's features and navigation—it's really simple so it was easy to keep the video short.

By the way, this was my first screencast. I used ScreenToaster, a free web-based screen recorder (that I found via Lifehacker). It was easy to use and didn't require any software installation on my part.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Old Man Stewart Shakes His Fist at Twitter